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Meret Oppenheim
Object (Le Déjeuner en fourrure)
1936



Paul Eluard and Man Ray
Facile
1935



Salvador Dalí
Bather (Female Nude)
1928



Jean Benoit's
branding iron



Hans Bellmer photos
at the Met



Henri Cartier-Bresson
Alicante, Spain
1933
at Howard Greenberg Gallery



Ed and Nancy Reddin Kienholz
The Hoerengracht
(detail)
1984-88
at PaceWildenstein



Carolee Schneemann
Vulva's Morphia
1992
(detail)
at P.P.O.W.



Carolee Schneemann
Infinity Kisses II (Vesper)
1990-98
(detail)
at P.P.O.W.



Abel Barroso's
computer with built-in cell phone,
at the Cuban Art Space



Suite 106,
with paintings by Cordy Ryman



Cordy Ryman
Corner Belt #1
2002
at Suite 106



Still from Floater by Michael Dee at Suite 106
Weekend Update
by Walter Robinson


The provocatively titled "Surrealism: Desire Unbound" arrives at the staid Metropolitan Museum in New York this week, Feb. 6-May 12, 2002, complete with $20 "Surrealist Eye" t-shirts and coffee mugs, a limited-edition, faux-fur-covered $120 catalogue and 300 art works (and books) by more than 60 artists. The pictures are all hung rather high -- "Met blockbuster style," said Surrealist expert Lewis Kachur -- on walls painted yellow-gold, robin's egg blue and other hues-of-the-moment, and the carpet has been taken up, leaving a lovely black marble, "anticipating the wear and tear of huge crowds," said Lancet art critic Phyllis Tuchman. Another oddity, presumably in keeping with the subject, are the galleries whose walls are lined with clear plastic vitrine-like stalls, themselves lined with white fake fur and filled with letters, manuscript sheets, drawings and photos.

With all that fur, one might wonder as to the absence of Meret Oppenheim's fur-lined teacup, which is owned by the Museum of Modern Art and made it to London, where the exhibition was organized, but not across town. It's in the other big Surrealism show organized by Werner Spies for the Pompidou. Oh well. At any rate, the Met exhibition designer's feverish efforts are understandable, considering that all those cabinet pictures seem out of place, too small and intimate for the mass venue on Fifth Avenue.

Otherwise, what can be said about the show except that it's h-o-t? A few paintings are standouts, especially the exquisitely misshapen 1928 pink nude by Salvador Dalí from the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla., the pair of large Giorgio de Chirico enigma paintings from 1914 in the first gallery and the several works by Andre Masson. And the photos, drawings, books and ephemera are especially contemporary, and some are especially kinky. Met curator Bill Lieberman is to be commended for his balls.

"The Surrealists were first to pursue the ideas of the Marquis de Sade, who discovered the repression of desire!" proclaimed Valery Oisteanu, something of a Surrealist himself and writer for a magazine called New York Arts. At the press preview, he drew attention to a display case that contains a branding iron for the mark SADE. During a 1959 ritual, the artist Jean Benoît, the painter Matta jumped up, spellbound, and branded himself on the heart and had to be rushed to the hospital. "Penance for having an affair with the wife of Gorky," insisted Oisteanu. "who was driven to suicide!"

The Surrealists were into free love, no matter who got jealous. So French. For instance, Max Ernst, a devastatingly handsome old letch at 45, took off with a rich, 19-year-old art student -- Leonora Carrington (she later suffered a nervous breakdown). Duchamp was in a famous menage a trois with three women in the early 20s. Frida Kahlo divorced Diego Rivera in 1940, and remarried him several months later. And everyone knows about that Picasso fellow.

The Met's original backers for the exhibition are said to have turned puritanical and pulled out, according to a story that is being widely repeated in art circles. Not so, said a Met spokesman. The show, which was sponsored by Morgan Stanley in London, is a separate operation in New York, where it is being funded by Met patrons Jane and Robert Carroll. Thank them if you see them.

Why do a sexy Surrealism blockbuster now, after shows like "L'Amour fou: Photography and Surrealism" at the Corcoran Gallery in 1985 took the curatorial investigation and presentation of this period so much further? Perhaps the raucous eroticism of the yBas had something to do with the Tate Modern's interest. Or perhaps the Met has finally discovered its own subterranean currents of desire.

The Surrealist impulse is all over town. On view in New York for the first time, at PaceWildenstein on West 25th Street, is The Hoerengracht, a walk-in tableau of a kind of courtyard in Amsterdam's Red Light District, complete with scantily clad mannequins, built in 1984-88 by the late California assemblagist Ed Kienholz and his wife and artistic collaborator Nancy Reddin Kienholz. It's rather dark and haunted-looking, and goofy too, with loads of dried glue running down the window panes. "Hoerengracht," as Marco Livingstone points out in the accompanying catalogue, means "the whore's canal," and puns on the name of a real Amsterdam canal, the Herengracht, or "gentlemen's canal."

The show includes several "drawings" for the piece, which are painting-like wall assemblages that include a small red light and suggestively frame elements like images of a bed, or a mannequin’s hand grasping a doorknob. Their price ranges from $95,000 to $250,000. The Hoerengracht itself is "reserved" and the price is not given.

At Howard Greenberg in SoHo is an exhibition of erotic and Surrealist photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson, who began attending Surrealist meetings in Paris at age 17. Many of the photos are his famous snaps of streetwalkers, whose comic yet erotic expressions recall the stylings of both Goya and Pedro Almodovar.

But even more exciting is the show of works at P.P.O.W. by Carolee Schneemann, the performance artist who is widely credited with taking female sexuality away from the mute artist's model and giving it the kind of active jouissance that now is considered a woman's birthright. Her legendary Meat Joy Kinetic Theater, a 1964 Happening that premiered in Paris at the Festival of Free Expression and subsequently wowed them at the Judson Church on New York's Lower East Side, featured eight naked people plus chicken, fish, sausage and other props in a writhing orgiastic mess. "I just picked the people off the street," Schneemann said at the opening. "There was a balloon salesman, a poet... they had to go through two weeks of intensive practice to learn to handle the meat!"

Also on view is a grid of vulvic images (with fans to cool them!) from 1992 and a photograph of her famous "interior scroll" performance, in which she stands naked reading a text on a slim paper scroll she draws from her vagina (this is a later recreation; the original was only recently purchased by California collector Peter Norton). Several new pieces, using an evocative photograph of the artist kissing her cat, are called Infinity Kisses, and are based on an Egyptian story about a girl sharing the breath of life with a lion cub and becoming an oracular priestess. A six-minute videotape copy of Meat Joy is available for $250.

*         *         *
Over at 124 West 23rd Street is a second-floor gallery called the Cuban Art Space, where the Havana artist Abel Barroso has installed his Third World Internet Café, a collection of computers, laptops, cameras and other high-tech devices that are carved out of cedar wood (like cigar boxes) and given paper scrolls that move on cranks rather than digital picture screens. "Techologia de Punta" -- cutting-edge technology -- here means a three-sided computer with pointed corners. Like a lot of parodies, this one has a melancholy truth at its core -- the fraudulent promises of Stalinism.

The café installation, which includes placemats and a menu as well as new wash drawings on the walls, debuted at the 2000 Havana Biennial, and has appeared at Fran Magee's Gallery 106 in Austin and the University Art Museum in Albany. Future stops include galleries in Key West, Montreal and Tokyo. The ersatz electronics, which are beautifully carved and decorated in "Mango Tec" style with palm fronds and other island motifs, are priced at $3,000.

*         *         *
A few months ago, Irena Popiashvili and her partner Marissa Newman opened a new gallery, Suite 106, in an unlikely place -- a smallish room off the lobby of the Milford Hotel on West 76th Street off Broadway. They have a good program to begin with, and have complicated their problematic-by-nature hotel-room space with the installation of a kind of architectural frame in its center. Designed by Nicholas and Thomas de Monchaux, the thing is a sort of pavilion, like a dance floor, raised a step up and with a drop ceiling, brightly lit with fourescent lights. One wall of the space is occupied by a window, and this is the site of a second permanent installation, a translucent green photo film image of deep forest by Susa Templin.

Opening on Feb. 2, 2002, at Suite 106 was a show of abstractions made by Cordy Ryman, simple and familiar works that are distinguished by having been made of cast-offs and found scraps, perhaps an example of the kind of cross between Minimalism and Pop that New York Times art critic Roberta Smith recently called "Elegiac Americana."

In the bathroom, on a screen set up in the tub, is a seven-second video loop by the young Los Angeles artist Michael Dee. It's a punched-up snippet of Taxi Driver, a slow pan in on a glass of Alka-Selzer. Sound is very much a focus of the piece, most of it a hissing white noise, which at the end is overlaid by the close-up sound of bubbles popping. The trance effect, as the artist called it, is broken by the faint noise of a truck honking, and the cycle begins again. The videos have an autobiographical element; a second tape shows the slowed-down melting of a pill for Crohn's Disease, was made when the artist was dating a woman with terminal intestinal cancer (who in the end recovered).

*         *         *
The World Economic Forum, which unlike the art world seems to be a group of blowhards with actual power, had a few interesting art effects. The Whitney Museum at Phillip Morris was closed to its usual lunchtime visitors and taken over by the police as a rest stop. And among the panelists inside the nest of thieves were at least two artists (present as window-dressing only, presumably), Dale Chihuly and Jenny Holzer. But the real stuff was outside, in the streets, where demonstrations took on the form of a Dada carnival, with chants, theatrical costumes and giant puppets. Anti-globalization demonstrators were denominated like an Ellsworth Kelly painting -- red (radical actions), yellow (peaceful illegalities) and green (lawful protests only). And the spirit of Jackson Pollock was there, too, in the red paint dripped like blood on the street in front of especially condemned corporate citizens.
*         *         *
Anthony Haden-Guest publishes a book of some 400 of his cartoons with Alworth Press this April, accompanied by an exhibition at Deitch Projects... Gregory Crewdson does the hat trick with three shows at once, at Luhring Augustine in New York, White Cube in London and Gagosian in Los Angeles, starting this May... The Kimbell Art Museum just bought a painting by Gerrit Dou from Otto Naumann for an undisclosed price; it sold at Van Ham Kunstauktionen in Berlin for a little over $2 million last June (over a presale estimate of ca. $250,000!)...

New York Times was sponsor of the National Black Fine Art Show at the Puck Building in New York last weekend, but that didn't stop reviewer Ken Johnson from telling it like it was: "too much mediocrity and kitsch, too much painting superficially imitating outmoded styles, too much sentimental illustration, too many tchotchkes, too much pseudo-Africanism, pseudo-folk art and pseudo-primitivism..." Hey, what's the matter with tchotchkes?


WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.



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